Review: Saints Of Big Harbour By Lynn Coady Essay, Research Paper
A town called maliceSaints of Big HarbourLynn Coady432pp, Jonathan Cape”All sorts of deals are being made around here,” observes Guy, the sensitive, downtrodden teenage protagonist of Canadian Lynn Coady’s third novel. He’s right. Guy lives in rural Nova Scotia, nowhere-ville, with his hardworking mother and slightly dotty and wild older sister.His father left long ago and has recently been replaced with his mother’s alcoholic brother, Isadore, who is attempting to stabilise his life and quit drinking by playing at family life. In return, the family get to use Isadore’s truck; which means, in theory, that Guy can drive into nearby Big Harbour and take a girl out.But while Guy – shy yet dogged – goes after cool and popular Big Harbour girl Corinne Fortune, his uncle blunders in and interferes at every point, shaming, bullying, embarrassing and generally making Guy’s life hell. He dominates the family, threatens violence, goes on binges and confiscates the TV.Meanwhile, Corinne, who has never been especially interested in Guy, has begun hinting to her friend Pam that she has a secret boyfriend, someone who adores her but also sometimes physically hurts her. Pam – plump, careful, serious – is shocked and feels that something must be done. It is only a matter of time before word goes around the small town that Corinne has been seeing Guy, a boy from the wrong part of town, and that some sort of action or revenge is required.This is a strange novel – sharply written, intelligently layered. It doesn’t just stay with Guy himself, but swings in and out of many different perspectives, switching tense and person, weaving its way around events and dialogue, until you have what amounts to a wide people-panorama of the town. Its themes – the sheer inescapable boredom of small-town mediocrity, violence as an inevitable companion to alcoholism, the stories girls tell to glamorise themselves to themselves – are all dealt with in impressive detail.Occasionally, though, that very scope and depth seem to undermine Coady’s otherwise tight and lively writing. There isn’t a single character here who doesn’t convince, but now and then I longed to be told where to look, who to follow. I wished the perspective didn’t always have to change.
In many ways, the men – deftly drawn, achingly male in their motivation and responses – come out of the novel better than any of the women, who remain trembly, high-schoolish sketches. And, though you want to root for Guy, it is Uncle Isadore, with his “instinct for manipulation” and greedy need for familial love, who emerges head and shoulders above the rest: a great, indestructible dinosaur – charismatic, distressing, fascinating.· Julie Myerson’s latest novel is Laura Blundy